I came out to my mother two years before immigrating to the U.S. but I still remember her asking me on the phone, years after the fact, “But, do you think it’s safe?”
Back then, my answer was some platitude to calm down mothers that lived half a world away. But we both knew I was lying.
Of course it’s not safe.
I knew as much the moment I first came out to my 12th grade English teacher after reading Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project, which taught me the meaning of the phrase “hate crime” while putting words to how I felt about my own sexuality.
Sure, things are getting better. In May of last year, I have been able to marry my wife in the pouring rain, in a state that had us all convinced that pigs would fly before same-sex marriage would be the law of the land here. We had been wrong and we celebrated how wrong we were amidst many queer and straight friends, rainbow umbrellas, and quite possibly the nerdiest wedding ceremony ever.
I have a career I love where I get to be around some incredibly bright minds in an effort to make them shine even brighter every day. I am part of a writing community of diverse thinkers and people whose wonderfulness defies mere description.
I am incredibly grateful for the friends and community I have been lucky enough to find willing to put up with my loud, crazy, rainbow-tinted weirdness and most of the time I feel very comfortable being as me as I can possibly be.
And yet I don’t feel safe being out to everyone at my school, in fact I worry about every student, every colleague I let in on what still feels like a secret. As if who I love and who I am is something to keep hidden under too baggy clothes.
I encounter people every day, many of them students of mine who feel so fundamentally unsafe that I’m wondering what I’m even complaining about.
There’s a huge part of me who wants to be braver than I am, who wants to see the phrase “coming out” erased from our collective dictionary and replace the words tolerance and acceptance with celebration and community.
That part wants to shout my truths from the rooftops, be the queer role model so many of my students and anyone who’s ever asked me how to appropriately address LGBTQ issues need.
The cautious realist in me stands ready with the duct tape of conformity far more frequently than I care to admit. Because yes, like so many times, my mother may be right. Staying quiet might be playing it safer. Authenticity may be the holy grail of idealists. That part feels a little queasy even now as I am writing this post.
I woke up with the news of the mass shooting in Orlando on all of my news feeds. I still don’t have the words to express a response that reaches beyond shock and heartbreak.
The thing that gets me is how numb we have become to the word shooting appearing in our news feeds and how we as a nation still refuse to do anything about this. How can we let this happen? How can we accept that anyone can just decide they don’t like two people kissing and pick up a gun? How can people exploit what is happening for cheap talking points and expect things to blow over until we can safely freak out again about who gets to pee in whose bathrooms?
I also see the Tweets of people mentioning how this is why we should all move away from the U.S. and yes, I sometimes question my sanity when I think about how I just barely sent off my application for citizenship and all that it implies.
But that’s the thing. I believe we can do better. We have shown that we can. We just need to keep at it. That’s what I’m currently trying to convince myself of as I’m trying to get past the stage of angry crying and feeling shocked and powerless.
Because the thing is we aren’t powerless. We have shown this when a country exploded in rainbows and pride when same-sex marriage was legalized last year and we will continue what so many started before us.
In all of this, I ask myself what I can do to even make a wink of a difference in all of this.
I am a teacher and a writer.
I will continue putting diverse books in the hands of teens. I will continue reading and writing books with LGBTQIA characters. I will continue teaching diversity and multiple perspectives.
I will refuse to let fear and the feeling of not being safe silence me.
I hope that one day it will be enough.